6

Dear Father Christmas…

Dear Father Christmas
I’m sorry my letter is so late this year, but for some reason life has been a bit hectic in recent weeks.
The good news is that my wish list for Christmas is very straightforward.
The bad news is that as I’ve left it so late you might find some of the things on it may be out of stock. I fear there might be a few other parents who are after the same things…
Here goes.
Please may I have:
A patience gene – with all the preparations for Christmas mine seems to have disappeared somewhere along the way, and I need a new one – fast
A good night’s sleep – children feeling sick in the early hours, husband coughing all night, me lying awake worrying about how I am going to get everything done. All I ask for is one night when I get my much-needed seven or eight hours without any interruptions
A spare sense of humour – for all those times mine fails me. Recently this has included the time I went on a Christmas shopping trip only to burst the front tyre of my car when accidentally mounting a kerb, managing to get all the children into bed early one night so I could wrap their presents – and then running out of sticky tape, and buying some beautiful twinkly lights, spending an age arranging them carefully on the tree, gathering the family together for the grand switch on…and not as much as a flicker. Nothing. Faulty lights.
The ability to be in two places at once – there have been difficult decisions to make recently with the nursery nativity play and work on the same day, two separate school concerts organised for exactly the same time, and a mums’ Christmas do and husband’s office bash on the same evening.
A couple more hours in the day – to sort out the Christmas credit card bill, work my way through the pile of ironing which is currently staring me in the face, and maybe, just maybe, having the time for a long, relaxing bath.
Oh, and one more tiny thing please.
A plan – wrapped in tissue paper and put in a pretty box, with a beautiful bow on top, I would like a detailed plan on how to successfully manage this parenting thing until at least this time next year.
Thanks in advance for your generosity. Merry Christmas!
A very ordinary mum x

A big thank you to everyone who reads mumtwothreefour and who has given me so much encouragement and support – as well as sharing their own parenting experiences with me – this year. I hope you all have a very happy (and possibly even relaxing!) Christmas with your families.

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3

Finding it a job to work

What do you mean ‘you’ve got a job?’, says teenager incredulously.
“A job”, I reply. “You know, that thing where you get up, go out to a place of work and actually earn some money.”
“But who’s going to look after us?” says middle son, turning a bit pale as he takes in the news. “I thought your job was looking after us.”
“It is.” I reply as I try to give him a reassuring hug. As usual middle son – who doesn’t do kisses and cuddles – is too quick for me and manages to sidle away before I can get my arms around him.
“But I want to do something else as well as looking after you.” I continue, as they all watch me with mouths wide open. “Something I’m good at. Something where I will feel valued and useful. Something where I’m not just in the house all day.”
I keep going while I have a captive audience.
“It might mean some of you have to go to breakfast club at school a few mornings a week, and possibly after school club on the odd occasion. But the job is only part-time, so I’ll still mostly be around when you’re at home.”
“Great”, says middle son, totally forgetting his fears of being abandoned. “They have chocolate cereals at breakfast club, and you get to go on the computer. When are we starting?”
“I want chocolate cereal”, pipes up teeniest, heading for the cupboard to see what he can find, only to be greeted by boring old cornflakes, weetabix and porridge.
“Does it mean you have to go and buy some new outfits”, asks daughter hopefully, already planning a girly shopping trip into town. “Let’s face it, your clothes aren’t great are they? My friends’ mums look really elegant when they are going to work. And they wear high heels.”
“Maybe”, I say, looking down at my baggy jumper, shabby jeans, and bright purple crocs, and trying to imagine how I will look dressed any other way.
“How much money will you earn a week?” asks middle son. Knowing how fond he is of juicy sums I expect he is getting ready to calculate how much that will be a month, a year, and probably a decade.
“I’m not sure yet”, I say, wondering if anyone is going to at least congratulate me on my good news. “Anyway, it’s rude to ask people what their salary is.”
“Dad told me what HE earns”, middle son brags, looking gleefully at his older siblings.
“No he didn’t”, says teenager. “No he didn’t”, says daughter.” “No he didn’t”, joins in teeniest excitedly, thinking this is going to be a good game.
I walk away from the argument, trying to focus on the beautiful bouquet of flowers husband bought me, the lovely card sent by sister-in-law and the supportive texts sent by friends when they heard I’d got a new job.
Much, much later.
“Mum – I’ve just got one question for you,” announces middle son, appearing a little irritated that he hadn’t thought of it earlier.
This ‘place of work’ that you say you’re going to. When we’re at breakfast club, or after school club or wherever we are. What will you actually be doing there?”

0

Ta-ta toddler years!

You’re on that long, crazy rollercoaster ride called raising a toddler, with all its chaos, unpredictability and hair-raising moments. You want to cry, shout, scream, possibly even run away at times.
Then, suddenly, almost before you know it, you’re starting to come out the other end. Hissy fits in the supermarket (toddlers, not yours) become fewer and further between, attempts at trying to reason with the little person become slightly more successful, and the ‘NO, NO, NO with foot stamping’ reply is heard a little less often.
Here are some of the other ways that I know we are finally waving goodbye to toddlerhood in our house – and by the way, toddler will now be referred to as ‘teeniest’ in this blog, as although he thinks he is at exactly the same stage of life as teenager, he is still very much the weeniest in the family.

Nursery rhymes have been dumped
Much to the relief of the rest of the family we no longer have to listen to countless renditions of ‘Humpty Dumpty’ and ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’ on long car journeys. Now it’s ‘Horrid Henry’ instead

Loo paper actually stays on the roll
Finally the bathroom game of ‘let’s see how fast I can unravel the whole roll of toilet paper onto the floor’ seems to have lost its daily appeal

Comfort blankets are a no-no in public
Instead of being dragged everywhere with us, ‘Clothy’ now remains firmly behind closed doors, but has definitely not been thrown out just yet

‘I want’ has become ‘Seriously I want’
Fancy words such as ‘seriously’ and ‘actually’ and ‘probably’ have started appearing in sentences for the first time

No fakes for me
Toy phones or plastic money are no longer acceptable. Only the genuine article is good enough, even if it means pinching teenager’s mobile from his school bag or holding the pound coin from the shopping trolley in a tight little fist and refusing to give it back

Pink is for girls
Only a year ago we couldn’t leave the house without a rather fetching baby-pink spotty handbag in tow (full of cars, of course). Now? Even socks with a tiny pink or purple stripe at the top are thrown on the floor in disgust

Tomorrow, tomorrow…
‘Tomorrow’ used to mean anything beyond NOW. But the penny has suddenly dropped that references to the future come in all shapes and sizes. Days of the week are the favourite at the moment – even if Friday comes before Monday and Wednesday is at the weekend

It’s boring
Not long ago a walk to the park, a ride on the shopping centre escalator or even a few minutes watching cars go over the speed bumps in our street was the best thing ever. Now? That’s soooooo boring. Can we go to a swimming pool with super-spirally slides instead?…

Buggy’s banished
No more quick snoozes in the buggy while mummy dashes around town with a long list of errands to get through. No more sitting in the shopping trolley with a big iced bun while she does her weekly food shop. Now I absolutely insist on walking everywhere or pushing the trolley myself.
What’s more, there’s no more nipping into a parent and toddler car space for mummy at the local supermarket either. Oh, to have a toddler again…

8

Children’s birthdays. The magic and the memories.

Whether one of our children is celebrating their fourth or fourteenth birthday, I like to think we give them a little bit of magic – even if that only means a nice present in the case of the older ones.
It’s lovely to enjoy that magic with them, but for me their birthdays are also a time when I find myself feeling a little wistful, indulging in my memories of their birth date and all that has happened in their little lives since.
This week was toddler’s birthday. Let me share the magic and the memories.

You unwrap your presents – will you get that hot wheels you’ve been talking about for weeks, or that toy fire engine that we have to go and look at in the toy shop every time we go to town?

I unwrap the memories of the day you were born, of the dash to hospital early in the morning after those first signs that labour might be underway. Of those long hours of waiting while you decided whether or not you could be bothered to leave your safe place of refuge for the real world. Of the indescribable pain near the end, then the relief and elation when you finally arrived. Of the joy as we phoned the other three children and told them they had a beautiful new baby brother.

You run to the door as you greet your little friends who have come to your birthday party. You’re so excited – you’re having teddy bear crisps, pizza and mini sausages to eat, we’ve blown up lots of balloons, and you’ve helped choose the presents for the party bags to give out at the end.

I run my fingers over a dusty photograph of you as a tiny baby. I remember the first time I held you in my arms, the first time I touched your velvet skin, the first time I smelt your sweet breath. I remember how I just stared at you for what seemed like hours, unable to speak, not quite believing that you were mine. I remember all those milestones in your life so far, your first smile, your first words and steps, that brave wave goodbye as I left you at pre-school for the very first time.

You wear a big badge with your new age on it and show it proudly to everyone you see.

I wear the worry lines from those times you’ve hurt yourself, from those times when you’ve been ill with high temperatures and I’ve stayed up all night nursing and comforting you. From the times you’ve cried but couldn’t tell me why, the times you’ve had a strange rash or refused to eat for no apparent reason.

You wipe away a big, sticky, chocolate smear from your face.

I wipe away a tear. The tear of another year passing, of you growing a little bit older, a little bit taller, a little bit more independent. The tear of regret that I haven’t always savoured every moment with you, that sometimes I’ve been impatient and grumpy with you, that sometimes I have despaired of you, wished away those precious early years, and then felt like a really bad mother.

My thoughts scatter as we sing happy birthday, and I smile as I watch the reflection of the candles on your cake shining in your bright, excited eyes.
I take a photograph. I’ll put it away – like my thoughts – to look at another day or another year.
Happy Birthday my darling boy.

0

Summertime Blues

“My head is poorly”, toddler complains as he pulls his T-shirt right up and starts to rub his tummy.

I know how he feels.

I had an ache recently too, although I wasn’t exactly sure where it was or what it was. But I think if I’d trudged off to our local GP and told him all my problems – mountains of dirty washing, a dusty, musty, cobweb-filled house, an inbox full of unopened e-mails and a pile of unpaid bills – he’d probably have ushered me gently out of the door telling me it was just another case of post-holiday blues.

Normally when we’re lucky enough to go away on a holiday I’m more grown up about the whole thing. I prepare myself for the fact that coming home will probably feel a bit like those difficult, dreary post-Christmas days when you feel flat, fed up and fearful that you’ll never have anything to look forward to ever again.

But this year I was so excited about our plans – and taking middle son and toddler on an aeroplane for the very first time – that I totally forgot to remind myself about that horrible WHAM, SLAM, back to reality bit when it all comes to an end.

For me the ‘blues’ bit started on the last day of our holiday, when we had to drag ourselves away from the gorgeous weather and beautiful swimming pool to pack our suitcases. After two weeks of freedom, of having to be nowhere at any particular time, of being able to do whatever we pleased whenever we wanted – within the constraints of family life of course – the prospect of boring old normality started to loom heavily.

That sinking feeling got gradually worse as we journeyed home, getting stuck in a mammoth traffic jam on the way to the airport, and finally arrived, exhausted, at our front door in the pouring rain, only to find we couldn’t open it because of the amount of junk mail sitting on our doormat.

As I wandered around, opening all the windows to get rid of that odd smell which comes with a house that hasn’t been lived in for a week or two, I was reminded little by little of all those annoying little jobs that I found so easy to put off earlier in the summer, telling myself I’d do them ‘when we got back from holiday’.

Daughter’s new school uniform was sitting on the dining room table, all needing to be labelled. Forms for bus passes and various out-of-school activities were waiting to be filled in and sent off. Party invites needed to be responded to. Worst thing was looking at the calendar and having to go past the ‘ON HOLIDAY!’ part, written in big, red, excited scribble, only to be greeted with a series of children’s appointments for the dentist, orthodontist and opticians before the start of school.

Whilst I struggled silently with this feeling of malaise, the children didn’t seem to be suffering one bit. Within two minutes of being at home, they were already onto the next thing as if they’d never been away.

“What are we having for tea?” asked middle son cheerfully, as I opened the fridge to be greeted by a slab of mouldy cheddar cheese, some grim-looking olives and a few out-of-date yoghurt pots.

“Can I have some friends round tomorrow?” asked teenager, once he’d established that his fish were still alive thanks to the valiant efforts of nanny and grandad.

Only toddler had slight misgivings. “Can we go back on holiday now?”, he asked hopefully, as he watched husband and I open up the heavy suitcases – filled with ‘precious’ rocks and stones collected during our time away.

To be honest this post-holiday blues didn’t last much longer than my toddler’s tummy ache – or was it a headache? Once I’d done the washing, filled the fridge and cupboards with food, ticked a few things off my long ‘to do’ list, and had a lovely, long chat with an old friend – and shown her all our holiday photographs, of course – I was soon feeling back to normal.

And after a couple of nights in our comfortable bed with proper pillows and no church bells waking us up at six o’clock every morning, I could almost bring myself to say that there really is no place like home…

0

I’m bored! Children’s favourite summer sayings

Months have been spent planning days out, special activities, visits to family or old friends, and even a holiday away – all so the children will be kept busy and happy in the long summer break.

And yet I’ve still heard them complain that they’re bored!

Here are a few of the other things which have been said in our house since term finished a couple of weeks ago.

What are we doing today?

I hardly have a chance to open my eyes in the morning before someone is demanding to know what the timetable is for today. The pressure is on – my job description has suddenly become ‘children’s full-time entertainer’.

I’m hungry

In the school term it’s easy. The children eat breakfast, I send them off to school with a snack for breaktime, and sandwiches for lunch. Then I’m done thinking about food until school pick-up time. Not so in the holidays. Every two minutes they’re delving in the cupboard or asking when the next meal is. My house has become a 24-hour canteen. Shame they’re not so keen to help with the food shopping…

Why can’t I stay up later?

Yes, it’s the holidays. And I’ve pushed bedtime back by at least an hour or two. But  an hour or two isn’t enough and the children want to stay up even longer. Not only am I on my knees and desperate for a bit of child-free time, but if I let them go to bed any later they’ll be tucking ME in bed and kissing ME goodnight!

Why can’t we go to a theme park like my friends?

I mention the word ‘park’ and the children suddenly get all excited, wondering which theme park we’re going to. Actually I am planning a quiet picnic at the local park -which boasts a small children’s playground and a football pitch. ‘But everyone else goes to theme parks’, they say.

Can I have an ice-cream?

It’s hot so I’m very happy to dole out ice-creams when asked. But it’s still not good enough for toddler. He has heard the ice-cream van coming up the road, blaring out its music, and decides that he wants one ‘from the man’. I very calmly try to explain how ‘the man’s’ ice-creams will be three times the price and half as tasty as the ones I have in the freezer. Explanation falls on deaf ears and a tantrum follows.

Can you top up my phone again?

Holidays means texting and lots of it. Texting friends, friends and more friends – even if they live around the corner and one of the children has only just seen them. ‘WUU2?’ seems to be the favourite text. Meaning? ‘What are you up to?’

I don’t need suncream

We’re out for the day. It’s boiling and I chase toddler and middle son around madly as they try and wriggle out of putting on suncream. As for a sunhat? Not a chance!

I’ve got nothing to do!

We’re away on a short break, there is plenty for the kids to do, I’m reading my book, and suddenly life is looking up. But not for long. Suddenly I hear a little voice saying: ‘I’ve got nothing to do…’ Now I’ve heard it all.

I don’t need new school shoes

The children’s school shoes are falling apart and two sizes too small, and I’m determined not to leave it until the last week of the holidays to buy new ones, even if their feet have grown bigger by then. ‘But I don’t need new ones’, protest the boys, who don’t fancy being dragged into town when there is the possibility of computer time at home.

I don’t want to go back to school!

Admittedly I haven’t heard this so far this year – but am expecting to in the last week of August. At which point I will smile to myself, relax a bit, and conclude that perhaps  the holidays haven’t been quite so boring after all.

Either that – or the children must REALLY hate school!

 

6

Summer hols. Here comes the fun….

First morning of the summer holidays. It’s blissfully quiet in the house. Kids are either playing on the playstation, staring at the computer screen, or texting on their phone. It’s been like that for at least an hour and a half. Guilt starts to kick in and I call an emergency meeting in the kitchen.

“This holiday”, I begin.

“This holiday, I’ve decided that it’s OK for you to spend some of your time plugged into electronic things. I do understand that life is very busy in term time and that in the holidays you need to be able to wind down and zone out a bit…”

Kids look at me suspiciously, waiting for the inevitable ‘but’.

“However”, I continue, trying to ignore bored toddler who has already started to kick middle son under the table.

“I’ve decided to limit this ‘plug in’ time to one hour a day. The rest of the time, when we’re at home, you can play outside, make things, read, or just be.”

I think they’re still listening. I’m on a roll, so keep going.

“It’s actually easier than you think. When dad and I were kids we didn’t have anything electronic to play with and we still had fun in the holidays. If we managed it, so can you… ”

I catch teenager rolling his eyes, and daughter starts to sigh. I call an end to the meeting, just hoping I’ve made myself clear.

Ten minutes later I find teenager on the computer. I’m about to explode, until I see that he is googling  the question ‘What can an extremely bored teenager do in the holidays?” I leave him to it.

Daughter decides to paint her nails, middle son is figuring out how to build a model out of Lego and toddler is building a traffic jam with his toy cars. I feel quite pleased with myself. The talk has obviously had the desired effect and I start to have a good feeling about the holidays.

I creep upstairs and dare to pick up an as yet untouched summer read recommended by my bookclub. Forget the housework, I deserve a holiday too.

Turn to chapter one.

Suddenly hear a sawing noise. Must be one of the neighbours working outside.  Hear it again. Toddler comes rushing upstairs shouting that he wants to ‘cut wood too’.

Realise the sawing isn’t outside at all. It’s in our house – or the garage to be more precise. Leg it downstairs and find teenager busy cutting a thick piece of wood with husband’s saw. A saw which immediately screams out the words ‘A and E’.

“You said you wanted us to make things…” says teenager, as I stand there pale-faced.

“Great”, I say weakly, eyes fixed on the saw. How can I argue? I did say I wanted them to ‘make things’.  It’s just that I hadn’t really had wood and saws and the potential loss of fingers in mind.

I try to keep calm, wondering if I have any bandages in the house.

Toddler starts tugging at my legs, screaming that he wants the saw NOW. Middle son suddenly appears, demanding help with his model. Daughter shouts down the stairs that she can’t find the right colour nail varnish. Phone rings.

I ignore the children and the phone and the noise of the saw, and retreat to the loo, toddler hot on my heels. Mull over the situation.

Perhaps I was being a bit mean limiting playstations, computers and mobile phones to an hour a day in the holidays. As of tomorrow, I’ll up it to two hours…